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Never the Right Number of Radios

Joe writes in:

I’ve worked on several productions now ranging from commercials to reality shows and feature films. On many occasions I have been assigned to be in charge of the radios. Although it is much easier to manage with small crew reality shows or short gig commercials, I still haven’t found an efficient way to do so with feature films.

The two occasions that stick out were:

  • Production A (my first gig as Radio PA) started with 150 radios that I inventoried. I only received 148 back at the end of filming (55 days) The lost two were floaters and were not assigned to anyone to one job. Several Burger King headsets were not returned. I was not in charge of the surveillance headsets (the UPM only gave them out to people who gave her a $75 deposit).
  • Production B started with 90 radios which I originally didn’t inventory (I was put on Radio PA after they were already inventoried and passed out by someone else). I received 95 back at the end of filming (26 days). The additional 5 were not on the original inventory. Again, several Burger King headsets were not returned. I was in charge of 12 surveillance headsets… only 2 were returned…

I don’t know how to inventory the surveillance headsets or Burger King headsets. There aren’t any serial numbers to go by. Would I be allowed to require a “security deposit” for headsets as a PA? And how do I deal with the last day when near half the crew drops off their radios in boxes at the AD trailer without signing off their radio with the inventory?

I’m curious to see if there is an efficient way to go about radios?

It’s been a little while since we’ve talked about radios, so here’s a quick refresher–

Most rentals places will give you a list of serial numbers for all of the walkies the rented your show. If not, make such a list. Either way, turn this into a sign-out sheet. Don’t give a walkie to anyone without getting their name next to the serial number.

Then, take a moment to acknowledge that this is the last time you’ll ever have an accurate accounting of walkies.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve never once had every single radio accounted for at the end of a show. Usually, you come up short, but sometimes, somehow, you magically gain walkies, like somebody fed them after midnight.1

I try to be zen about the whole thing. Like a Donald Trump presidency or going on a date with Gregory Peck,2 it’s just never going to happen. I accept that, and you should, too.

Not that your boss will accept it. They’ll blame you for any lost walkies, even if someone deliberately stole one (which totally happens), or if you weren’t the person who passed them out initially. It just goes along with being the walkie PA at the end of the show.

So, in answer to Joe’s question, no, there is no more efficient way to do it. We live in an imperfect world. Suck it up.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Yes, I know this isn’t how Gremlins work. It’s just a funnier phrase than “dunked them in water,” because that would just ruin the walkie. For my next trick, I’ll dissect a frog…
  2. To be clear, I’m saying these are unlikely, not that I want them to happen.
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2 Responses

  1. P.S. Let me address two questions the person had:

    Can you ask for a deposit? Sure, but get the office on your side first so you have support. Things move quickly on set and it’s easier to say it’s in the hands of the UPM than yours. I personally haven’t done this because I have a hard time looking at someone in the face saying I need a check first when they need a surveillance NOW, but I know of many shows that have.

    AND how to deal with check in? Prep the day before. Every best boy, or your walkie contact in each department, should be given a print out of the walkies they have signed out during the course of the show along with a box that YOU gave them.
    You should set up a table by the AD trailer and sit and wait for the Trucks to wrap. Your Key PA understands how inherently crazy your wrap out is about to be, so collecting the walkies back should be your only task. Your Key PA also, with your help, has prepped the other Set PAs with your instructions of how and where you want the walkies back (ie your table). So when the grips throw a random Set PA their walkie box, that Set PA knows to bring it dutifully back to you.

    At your table, get a head start checking the radios against your inventory list. You’ll make headway for the obvious stuff. DON’T remove any tape until you are done which will probably be the next day in the office, because you will need to reference certain walkies later.

    The next day in the office, start making calls about the radios you’re missing. If you took great notes then you can account for at least where everything went. Make a summary of your work (called Bob the grip about walkie 310, and he promises to bring it back in). Hand the summary off to the office and wash your hands of it. If you didn’t take great notes during the show, then well, your wrap out day is about to suck.

  2. Walkie PA is an art. Knowing that you will inevitably lose them and you have to care when crew will tell you to ‘eff off sucks, but it’s satisfying when you get them all back (ask for a Walkie Bonus when hired!!!!) I’ve gone 3 shows in a row only losing one. Now that I’m an AD, my walkie PA just returned all of them. I say this, because it CAN be done.

    If there’s no serial numbers to surveillance or BK then you need to tag them with tape. Everything needs to be written down and “signed” for (even if you tell the crew person you are signing for them because they are busy). Luckily, people don’t want BK so they won’t steal them. But you do have to bug people in case it’s at the bottom of their bag and they’re lazy.

    If it’s a long job PLEASE take periodic inventory and ask to see people’s walkies during lunch. Give the best boys a receipt of all the walkies you’ve given them over the course of the show so they know what you expect back (and please make sure it’s accurate).

    –And usually if you end with MORE at the end of the show, it’s a sign you got a smaller temporary package during the course of the show and didn’t return them when you were supposed to. (Or crew members are returning them from old shows, but I’d expect to see only one…not 5).

    The key to walkies is write down everything (cover your own ass with paperwork), and bug, bug, bug people when you’re the only one that cares.

    And if you struck a deal about a walkie bonus, then maybe you can walk away from the job with a good chunk of change at the end of the show and great bragging rights.

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